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As societies slowly realise just how closely related they are to one another – often when violence erupts because of some crisis or another on the planet – their relationship to development is also beginning to change. We can no longer push forward our own growth at the expense of others, in a spirit of competition. Progress is now intimately linked to the harmony of all, so strong and complex are the interactions between all aspects of life on Earth.

As a result, the principle of “intellectual and moral solidarity”, enshrined in UNESCO’s constitution as the basis for the peace and prosperity of mankind, is more relevant today than ever. Everything is played out in the minds of men. However, nothing happens in the minds of men without the intervention of language, or languages. Humans only operate mentally, and even emotionally, through languages.

If men and women are to have their say in decisions concerning this development that is now common to us all, it becomes absolutely necessary to ensure that each of the languages in which they think, understand and imagine, continues to survive. It is impossible to conceive of the development of a globalized human race if it is not polyglot.

Every language is a precious treasure, because it is the path towards the life and vision of a human being, whose contribution to the common cause can only be authentic if it is expressed in the words of his or her own language. And, as we must all contribute to this common cause, the issue of translation between all these languages, and their perpetual interaction, becomes crucial for the justness of future development. If there were only one language in the world, it would not be long before it started to diversify, because humans are themselves diverse and use their language creatively. The plurality of languages is proof of this. And, as such, it is a heritage that is truly common to all.

Françoise Rivière, Assistant Director-General for Culture of UNESCO

Articles in this special edition are selections issued from 2008-1, Languages matter, and 2009-2, Endangered languages, endangered thought.

The monkeys, the scorpion and the snake (online version)

An epidemic is threatening indigenous languages (online version)

The secrets of Machaj Juyai-Kallawaya (online version)

The saga of the Ainu language (online version)

 

Discover this issue. Download the PDF. 

Special issue October 2009

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